Friday, November 23, 2012

Towards better living environments and healthier citizens

The societies of today are highly car dependent and dominated. The growing traffic flows begin to be a severe problem in many cities having negative impact on the environment, causing problems of pollution and noise and taking space away from other functions in the city such as leisure and recreation.

Ambitious targets to reduce CO2 emissions have been set at European level and also at the local level. This requires a shift from car traffic towards lighter and less polluting modes of transport. Recently, policy efforts made by many European cities have been increasingly targeted to reduce the amount of cars rolling on our streets. However, still a lot have to be done in order to support the more sustainable and healthier modes of transport such as biking and walking. 

We often tend to forget that the cities encouraging walking and biking and aiming to reduce the number of cars, besides more attractive and pleasant living environments, they get healthier citizens. The more people move using their muscle power, the healthier they are. The domination of cars in today’s society has decreased the daily movement made by bicycle or foot. Already small children are used to that their parents take them everywhere by car. There is a huge potential in many cities to reduce especially the amount of short trips made by car within the city area.

The improved health of citizens can also bring large saving in the social and healthcare sector. It has been calculated that each kilometre biked causes a saving of 0,16 euro, compared to a car that causes instead a loss of 0,10 e per kilometre for the society. According to WHO, every new cyclist produces a saving of 0,70 e per kilometre. It has been calculated in France that every cycling commuter decreases the costs for healthcare sector by 1200 euro per year. Source.

How can we then encourage people to choose a bike instead of car?

City planning is a way of creating such living environments that encourage people to take care of their daily tasks such as going to shops, work, schools and services by foot or by bike. An attractive living environment with well-functioning bike and walkway network, makes it easier for people to leave their car home. 

Sustainable Urban Mobility planning is a one way of creating attractive living environments and quality public spaces.  A Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) is a strategic plan designed to satisfy the mobility needs of people and businesses in cities and their surroundings for a better quality of life. It builds on existing planning practices and takes due consideration of integration, participation, and evaluation principles.

The basic characteristics of SUMP are: a participatory approach; sustainability to foster economic development, social equity and environmental quality; the integration of policy sectors; clear, measurable objectives and clear evaluation plans and value for money. In other words, SUMP introduces a new people-focused planning approach.

It’s time to start planning the cities for people not cars!

Kirsi-Marja Lonkila and Maija Rusanen from UBC EnvCom gave a presentation on the concept and benefits of Sustainable Urban Mobility plan in a conference Wellbeing municipality focusing on the daily mobility of people. The seminar was organised by KKI-programme in Helsinki on the 15th of November.

Text by: Maija Rusanen

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